Salomon S-Lab Hydration Packs: A History of Innovation

Innovation is the name of the game in running hydration these days. But it wasn’t always the case, at least not before Salomon started challenging the status quo. Some familiar with the running scene know that brands test their concept products on their top athletes. Salomon takes it to the next level, in that they generally design their racing products for one specific athlete, to use for one specific event. If it’s good enough for their athlete at his or her goal race, it might trickle down to the ‘average joe’.

From Status Quo to Spotlight

At Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc (UTMB) in 2009, Kilian Jornet showed up wearing something brand new to carry the gear required to run the race. The minimal, non-traditional design of the pack turned heads, and people wondered what the Salomon S-Lab had cooking in the running hydration realm. A year or two later, the Salomon Advanced Skin S-Lab 5 Set Pack was introduced to the public.

Kilian Jornet at the finish line of UTMB (2009) Photo courtesy of RunTramp.com

Kilian Jornet at the finish line of UTMB (2009) Photo courtesy of RunTramp.com

The Pack that Fit Like a Shirt

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Production model of the S-Lab Advanced Skin 5 Set (2012 version)

The design of the original S-Lab 5 Set Pack was a game-changer. It was uncommon, if not unheard of, to have a pack designed with stretchy fabric that conformed to the shape and movements of the runner in motion. Salomon hired physiotherapists to study the pressure points created by wearing a pack, resulting in a design that is hardly noticeable even when fully loaded. The unique fabric also eliminated the snags and rips other hydration systems caused on athlete’s shirts. The S-Lab 5 Set pack carried 5L of gear as well as 1.5L of water, but because it fit like a vest, there was virtually no bounce. The product garnered rave reviews, as did the Advanced Skin 12 Set Pack, which was released several months later. The 12 Set Pack caused a splash of its own by carrying up to 12L of gear and 1.5L of water in a sleek and comfortable package.

The Introduction of Soft Flasks

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S-Lab Advanced Skin Hydro 5 Set Pack (2014 version) Photo courtesy of altitudeblog.com

The designers at Salomon’s S-Lab were not only helping shape the face of mountain and trail running, but also observing the leaps and bounds of growth within the sport. With faster trail and ultra marathon times, it became clear that 100 mile races were now raced in the traditional sense, with minutes making the difference between first and second place. So the design team threw all their best race-ready features into the 2014 update, the Advanced Skin Hydro 5 and 12 Set Packs. They ditched the 1.5L bladder previously included in the 5 Set and 12 Set packs. Two front-riding 500mL soft flasks offered faster refills at aid stations, and were lighter and less bulky than a reservoir. The 2014 versions of the 12 Set and 5 Set both carried the same amount of gear as before (12L and 5L, respectively), but now with only a total of 1L of water, the loaded weight of the pack was lighter, making them perfect for racing fast. This move to soft flasks proved to spark an industry trend, which we are now seeing throughout other hydration brands. The Hydro 5 Set and 12 Set Packs also featured re-positioned pockets, so you could grab your gear without taking the pack off.  The packs also used a new mesh construction, for a more comfortable, flexible feel, once again setting a trend in the industry.

Faster, Lighter, Race-Ready

S-Lab, at its core, means racing. In 2015 we saw another huge step taken by Salomon towards even more freedom of movement. The designers wanted vests that were made in an apparel factory, that felt like a shirt and were just as comfortable as one. The Advanced Skin3 5 Set and 12 Set Packs were made even lighter, while maintaining the same cargo and fluid capacity. Almost all plastic pieces were removed from the packs, making them unbelievably soft and more comfortable for trail racing. The Skin3 5 Set and 12 Set Packs are primarily racing packs, but we doubt you’ll want to choose a different pack for your training runs.

Salomon also produced two brand new race packs in 2015, challenging the way the industry looks at weight. The S-Lab Sense Set Pack and the Sense Ultra Set Pack weigh less than your lightweight windbreaker and are comfortable enough to be worn next-to-skin. Salomon uses the name ‘Sense’ to define their products that are more minimal, the closest to the environment and the fastest for your race. The Sense Set Pack carries 1L of water between two soft flasks and 1L of gear, just enough for your short, fast trail races – nothing to weigh you down, just enough to speed you to the finish line. The slightly larger Sense Ultra Set Pack carries 3L of gear and 1L of water, making it perfect for a longer race, or a race where you might need to bring a jacket or extra food.

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Emelie Forsberg sporting the Skin3 5 Set Pack (2015) Photo courtesy of @salomonrunning on Instagram

The Future of Hydration

Where might Salomon’s S-Lab designers be taking us next? You’ll be seeing the new S-Lab lineup at Running Warehouse in the Spring of 2017, a sneak peak is below. Stay tuned for more information, but it seems that the focus will still be on making things even lighter, faster, and more comfortable than you ever thought possible.

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